Volunteering and Conservation Holidays
For a different kind of wildlife 'holiday', volunteer! It is still a paying holiday, but is cheaper than a safari. You will eat less, walk more and be even closer to nature. But be useful too, and consider your role, and whether you are taking a job away from the local workforce. You will learn about the bush on every safari mentioned on these pages, but more conservation-focused holidays are also possible. Here are some highly-rated organisations:
Volunteer in blocks of two weeks on endangered species monitoring projects in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and the Seychelles, with wild (painted) dogs and leopards an ongoing focus in the former, and turtles in the latter. There are also longer conservation training courses on offer, and for those keener to observe than take part, the Zululand Conservation Safaris are an extraordinary insight into the pressures facing conservationists in South Africa, particularly in the area of rhino protection. Being part of a team tracking, capturing and dehorning a rhino is an intense experience.
An organisation set up in 1993 in South Africa 'to raise the quality of guiding in South Africa, Ecotraining will take you walking through the bush for a week or train you fully as a field guide over a much longer period of time. Based primarily in the far northeast of South Africa, but with options in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Schools, universities, families and individuals, primarily British, have all forged special, long-lasting bonds with communities in Malawi, a beautiful, friendly country which manages to combine dense populations with wild areas. This really special company organises stays and participation in community projects which are immersive, and during which you are required to make yourself useful. They are the antithesis of voyeuristic.
Individual, family and group trips can be arranged to work monitoring desert elephants in northwestern Namibia, as well as helping with local community projects.
Something unique, although many other lodges in Botswana and Namibia, as well as one or two in South Africa, aspire to this level of engagement with a San community. In the northeast of Namibia, on the edge of two Bushmanland community conservancies and the truly remote Khaudum national park, is a simple lodge which supports local communities materially but also allows for engagement with these communities on their terms rather than at your convenience. It is this, an unpackaged experience, which is the point of difference.
In the central Namibian highlands, surrounded by farmland, Okonjima Nature Reserve is the base of the AfriCat foundation, which aims to preserve the range of cheetahs especially in Namibia, one of their last stronholds, and improve their reputation with farmers. It monitors its resident leopards very closely, and the reserve's conservation efforts are a focus for guests.
Conservancies all across the country allow a glimpse into the challenges of life alongside megafauna. The private and community conservancies across the Laikipia plateau north and west of Mount Kenya are the most developed in terms of their tourism infrastructure and explaining their mission to visitors, but my favourite is the Kimana Sanctuary due south of Nairobi near the Tanzania border, which provides a very narrow but vital corridor between the two vast ecosystems of Amboseli and Tsavo through which wildlife is able to move. Either side is cultivated land, in the middle are huge tuskers still roaming freely. It is a positive vision of a possible future for the continent - coexistence.